WHENEVER I MEET NEW people a party and they find out I’m a nutritionist, the questions about what I eat begin. The most common question is, “You don’t eat fill-in-the-blank, right?” “Wrong,” I often respond, which typically leaves my new friends in shock. So just in case I run into you at a party, these are five foods you don’t need to ask me about:
Yes, I eat carbs. Yes, I love pasta. And no, pasta doesn’t make you fat. Actually, pasta can be a healthy addition to your diet. According to a National Health and Nutrition Examination survey, people who ate pasta or noodles tended to have a slightly improved diet quality overall; for example, they often consumed more dietary fiber than those who avoided pasta. Also, the ever-popular Mediterranean diet, which research has shown to be heart-protective, includes pasta. Of course, it does matter how you consume it. A huge bowlful of spaghetti loaded with cheese and heavy cream sans veggies obviously isn’t going to be the best choice. But a 1-cup serving of pasta tossed with olive oil, lots of veggies and a lean protein, such as grilled shrimp or legumes, is another story. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I prefer regular pasta over whole wheat. Gasp!
I’m sticking with my “I love carbs” motto when I say, “Yes, I love bread.” And I eat bread every single day – 100-percent whole-wheat bread, that is. My typical lunch includes a sandwich on either two slices of whole-wheat bread or a scooped whole-wheat bagel. With bread, like with so many other foods, it comes down to portion size and what you consume with it. I am not chowing down on an 8-inch Italian sub with salami or a pastrami sandwich, but rather choosing healthy fillings like eggs, smoked salmon, tuna and lots of veggies. And when I go out to eat, I have been known to occasionally dive into the bread basket, but honestly at a restaurant, I prefer to enjoy those calories on an extra dry and ice-cold martini.
3. Red Meat
“You mean you aren’t a vegetarian or vegan?” I am often asked at parties. While I was for many years, I felt better when I reintroduced red meat into my diet. And I’m not just talking about having a steak once in a blue moon, but I typically eat red meat two times per week. Also, with a family history of heart disease, it helps to know that research shows a heart-healthy dietary pattern that contains lean beef, like the Mediterranean diet, may elicit favorable effects on cardiovascular disease. As with the bread and pasta, I make sure to keep my portion size in check and to choose healthy sides. In other words, you won’t find a 16-ounce porterhouse on my plate with creamed spinach and mashed potatoes (at least not regularly), but you will find me enjoying 4 to 6 ounces of filet mignon or skirt steak with a baked potato and steamed or sauteed broccoli.
4. Low-Calorie Sweeteners
Here is the one that provokes the most confused looks on people’s faces. Yes, I do consume low-calorie sweeteners, such as sucralose, and I do recommend it to my patients. One packet of Splenda in my iced coffee or latte just tastes better to me than other sweetening options. The consensus in the scientific community is that my choice is safe. Sucralose has been the subject of extensive safety testing, and is backed by more than 20 years of research and over 100 studies. It has been used throughout the world by millions of people since 1991. I rest my case.
5. French Fries
Last but not least, my list of shockers includes French fries. Here’s the reason in a nutshell: As much as I love pasta, I might even love French fries a drop more. For years when I was younger, I tried to eliminate them from my diet. They’re full of calories and fat, right? As far as I was concerned, they had no rightful place in my life. But that just made me want them more and more. Now that I am older and a whole lot wiser, I have found a place for them in my diet. I do not avoid them, but rather allow myself to enjoy them whenever I see fit. As a result, I no longer overeat them and feel like crap afterward, but rather savor every bite.
Editor’s note: The author is in partnership with Barilla, a maker of pasta, and Splenda, but was not paid for this post. Her opinions are her own.